business lessons learned from a cheating partner

No one succeeds alone. We work with others to achieve mutually beneficial goals. Working together has helped us evolve as a species, and will remain the key to our survival.

This philosophy applies to business too. Regardless of whether you’re an entrepreneur or an executive, you have to work with others. These others include teammates, customers, mentors, advisors, partners, and so on.

I’ve had the opportunity to work with some remarkable people in my career as an employee, investor, consultant, and entrepreneur. I learned a lot from them as a professional and a human being.

But education in business and life doesn’t just come from good results. It also comes when we learn from things that go wrong, and how we use those lessons to make ourselves better. Our mistakes are the best sources of life lessons.

That’s why I’ve also learned a lot from partners who cheated on me.

Here’s one example.

I partnered with an investment banker who came well recommended. He said he and his people could execute transactions but didn’t have the bandwidth to bring deals. And that was my forte.

So I took up the role to bring deals and get a share of the profit as remuneration. On the insistence of my partner, I even became a Director in the company so that he could leverage my credentials – ex-Citi, ex-SEBI, etc.

All seemed to go well. Then one day, I bagged a large client. My share ran into seven figures for this transaction. And he refused to pay a penny.

But this turnaround didn’t happen overnight. I noticed – and ignored – plenty of red flags. The experience taught me lessons I wouldn’t otherwise learn.

In this post, I’ll share three of them with you.

#1. Focus on others’ actions more than words.

The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool. – Richard Feynman

The first red flag arose during the early days when my partner repeatedly reneged on his promises to various stakeholders. I brought deals, but he and his team failed to execute them.

Work started piling up and so did the client advances. I sensed that the man was not trustworthy. But I stuck around because my fees were stuck with him.

In doing so, I sidelined the most important trait Warren Buffett looks for in an individual: integrity. I kept telling myself that he would behave differently with me. And I paid a heavy price.

When powerful emotions like greed, love, and denial, drive us, we become blind to people’s actions. We dismiss their transgressions as one-offs. Until one day, our blindness catches up with us.

Actions speak so loudly that they drown out words. Study people’s actions to decide whether they’re worthy of your trust. And don’t fool yourself into assuming that they won’t do bad things to you just because you’re a partner or customer. Any variance in thoughts, words, and actions is a red flag for you.

#2. Live like a lotus flower.

“It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.” – Warren Buffett

When I broke relations off with the businessman, I began to hear more instances of how he’d cheated people. He owed people a lot of money. He even botched up relations with the clients I had brought to his company.

The clients continued calling me about their problems. At first, I felt I didn’t owe them anything since I was still angry at the businessman. But then I put myself in their shoes.

I realized that if I ignored them, they would think I was a crook just like my ex-partner. (And who could blame them?) And my reputation would get soiled.

Further, I had led them to my ex-partner. So it was my responsibility to address their problems. Therefore, I continue to engage with them. Not just because I wanted to protect my reputation, but also because it was the right thing to do.

Even today, I engage with these clients and my ex-partner to sort out issues. It might appear futile, but it allows me to sleep well at night.

Your reputation is in your hands. It’s a result of what you say and do. You can either stoop low and cover it with mud. Or you can hold yourself to higher standards and strengthen it.

Choose the latter. Refuse to get dragged in the mud by pigs. Live like a lotus whose petals don’t get wet by the water or dirtied by the mud.

Tell the truth, keep your promises, do the right thing. As Steven Covey said, “Doing the right things for the right reasons in the right way is the key to Quality of Life.”

#3. Let go of the past.

“Build a strong foundation from the bricks people throw at you.” – Swami Chinmayananda

A huge blunder I committed during our partnership was to not document our revenue sharing terms in a formal agreement. Since he came well-recommended, I did what most Indian businessmen do: I accepted his word as the agreement.

But when the time came to pay my seven-figure fee, he said, “Manish, we have no such contract. So I don’t owe you anything.”

I felt shocked, angry, and cheated. I wanted to drag him to court. But how much would that drain me? With a heavy heart, I  decided to accept the treatment.

But I also realized one thing. Holding the grudge would only cause anger, frustration, and pain. Not for him; for me. Staying angry at someone is like holding a hot coal in your hand hoping the other person gets burnt.

Both your past and future are competing for your present. What you focus on is your choice. Holding grudges will keep you stuck in the past and ruin your present. Letting go of the past and channelizing your present resources towards building a good future will help you make progress. I chose the latter.

Forgive people, but don’t forget the lessons. Use those lessons to build a better future. The learnings I got by traveling, meeting entrepreneurs from across the country, and understanding their problems, led me to build SME Value Advisors – a business solutions platform dedicated to helping hardworking entrepreneurs move forward.

Final Thoughts

The wound is where the light enters you, Rumi wrote. Tough times are inevitable. They will break you. You can either stay broken or get up, put together the pieces, and become better.

My three biggest lessons from being cheated by someone I trusted were:

  1. Focus on actions more than words. If their actions don’t match their words, it’s time for you to preserve yourself.
  2. Live like a lotus flower. Live a dignified life. Refuse to get dragged into the mud.
  3. Let go of the past. Forgive people but don’t forget the lessons. Use those lessons to make yourself a better person.

What important lessons have you learned in business? Do leave a comment. I would love to learn from them.

By Manish Bansal

Manish is the Managing Director of SME Value Advisors, a platform that connects businesses with curated professionals who can deliver solutions. You can connect with him on

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